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The Morning After: Here Come the Irish, Ohio State Goes Undefeated, Johnny Football is Your Heisman Favorite

Notre Dame, deemed dead by the foolish, has reached the BCS Title Game. The Irish held Lane Kiffin’s USC at the goal line and dispatched the Trojans 22-13 in Los Angeles to finish 12-0. They are the apparent “team of destiny.” There were times the Irish weren’t splendid, but the salient point is they weren’t beaten. In a system where the regular season is touted as a playoff and two teams are chosen for a title game, Notre Dame earned the right to play. Brian Kelly now has an undefeated regular season at three of his four coaching stops.

How will the Irish fare against an SEC opponent? We’re about to find out. The SEC gets inflated by the BCS system. The conference’s reputation for playing the best football is entrenched, leading to teams being ranked highly to start the season. Major conference games happen early on, allowing a team such as Georgia to get beat by four touchdowns and then float back up to No. 3 in the BCS rankings padding win totals as other teams lose.

Six of the BCS Top 12 heading into this weekend were SEC teams. Though in the SEC, Alabama and Georgia each played two such teams, and went 1-1. Notre Dame went 2-0 against the BCS Top 13. Using that same metric, it’s fortunate South Carolina and Florida prevailed against ACC teams yesterday. With Michigan’s loss to Ohio State, the SEC’s best non-conference BCS rankings win would have been Kentucky over Kent State.

Using Sagarin’s SOS ratings, Notre Dame played the 30th toughest schedule, while Alabama played the 39th and Georgia played the 42nd. Every team in the Big 12 and Pac 12 played a tougher schedule than Alabama. So did multiple Big Ten teams. The eyeball test might dictate the SEC is better, but there’s no tangible indicator for that. At the very least, Notre Dame will provide a barometer.

Florida: The Gators earned a massive 37-26 win over Florida State on the road. They amassed 394 yards of total offense, running over the nation’s best statistical defense. Had USC upset Notre Dame, it would have sent Florida to the title game. The Gators might have a better argument to be there than either SEC title game combatant.

Florida went 4-1 against the Sagarin Top 20, including road wins over FSU and Texas A&M. Georgia, with a win, would be 2-1 with a glaring, four-score loss to South Carolina. Alabama would be 3-1, with a narrow win over LSU and a loss at home to Texas A&M. It’s an interesting case, though perhaps overridden by the fact they had a clear chance to get there against Georgia and failed. Nonetheless, this bounce-back season will ingratiate Will Muschamp with the Florida faithful, proving conclusively that fans care not one bit about being entertained, as long as it results in a win.

Defense Optional: Bedlam was Bedlam. Mike Gundy’s team gave its best recent performance in Norman, but it was not quite enough. Oklahoma came from behind in the fourth quarter to tie 45-45 and force overtime, eventually winning 51-48 after holding the Cowboys to a field goal. The Sooners have no defense and no running game. In consecutive shootout wins (by a 101-97 margin), the team has relied entirely on Landry Jones, who had 71 pass attempts last night. Despite not impressing, though, the Sooners are a win at TCU away from a probable BCS berth, either as the Big 12 champion or an at large.

Perfection: Ohio State held off Michigan 26-21 at home, securing a 12-0 finish to the regular season. A split national title could be in play, if voters disparage a one-loss Alabama or Georgia. One can quibble about the soft schedule and point out the remarkable 6-0 record in one-score games, but this season ranks among Urban Meyer’s most impressive coaching job. Going undefeated in college football is hard. Doing so with a leaky defense, a young quarterback and no real skill players to flesh out his offense is absurd. What will he do to the Big Ten when he has speed somewhere besides quarterback?

Not Quite Perfection: Michigan’s season was going to be defined by how the Wolverines handled a tough road schedule. They did not handle it, losing four games away from home, to opponents with a combined regular season record of 45-3. Two of the losses were by one score and a third was dead even until a quarterback injury. Brady Hoke’s staff has weathered the transition period well, with a 12-4 record in the Big Ten. Next year, when the talented pieces begin fitting into place, we’ll start seeing where this project is headed.

Johnny Football: Your Heisman favorite is a freshman. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards, ran for another 67 and produced five total touchdowns as the Aggies romped over Missouri 59-29. Putting his season in perspective, he has more touchdowns, 43, than Cam Newton had through 12 games in 2010. He has more total yards, 4,600, than Cam Newton had through all 14 games in 2010. Manti Te’o may have a case, but the pro-quarterback and sick numbers biases may be more enduring than the “senior leader” one.

Ironed Out: Auburn’s 2012 season came to a characteristic end, with a 49-0 obliteration by the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Alabama scored touchdowns on its first seven drives. They did not allow the Tigers within 40 yards of the end zone. Only Nick Saban’s generosity kept this from being Auburn’s all-time worst Iron Bowl loss. 2-9 vs. FBS. 0-8 in the SEC. Gene Chizik’s players were outscored 87-0 in their final two rivalry games. It is only a matter of time.

ACC Audition: The ACC has two logical choices for its 14th team. They met Saturday. The Connecticut Huskies, despite having nothing resembling an offense, stormed into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and upset a ranked Louisville team, 23-20 in overtime. While o the topic of relative football strength it is worth noting: UConn is 15-11 against Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville since joining the Big East, with the same number of outright or shared conference titles as those three schools combined.

Not a Good Year for Delany: In the Big Ten Leaders division, Ohio State and Penn State went 14-2. The four eligible teams (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue) went 9-23. Illinois, Indiana and Purdue went a combined 2-16 against the rest of the conference. This moment encapsulated Tim Beckman’s first season with the Illini. The Big Ten’s best team, undefeated, is ineligible. The probable Big Ten “Champion” lost to Ohio State by 25. Notre Dame is in the BCS title game. The only title relevant game next weekend is the SEC title game. But, hey…Maryland and Rutgers!

Coming Out Party: Jadeveon Clowney had 4.5 sacks against Clemson, bringing his total to 13 in 11 games.

Highlight You Might Have Missed: New Mexico State’s Kemonte Bateman caught a no-look, 67-yard touchdown against BYU. [Video via ESPN]

Stephen Orr Spurrier Quote of the Week: Ever the troll, the HBC opened his post-Clemson press conference with the following assessment: “It seems like when we play Clemson they don’t play very well.”

[Photos via Presswire]

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